I wish I could just sit here and share a new recipe with you. I wish I could talk about low fat coffee cake, crunchy apple bars and gooey caramel. But I can’t today. I have to talk about me and something I haven’t been 100% honest with you guys about.
(Image via Pinterest)
I’m not dying. I’m not getting a divorce. I’m not pregnant nor was I. As the title precludes, today we’re going to talk about something deeply personal and hard. For the past year, I’ve been facing some really hard mental demons of my own. Instead of hiding from my diagnosis anymore I’m going to sit down and talk about it frankly with you guys. I’ve been living with severe anxiety for the past year and a half, and I think I’m ready to talk about it.
People have so many misconceptions about anxiety. For one, everyone thinks they have it. My neighbor, my family members, every friend I confide in. They all believe they’re suffering from the same anxiety I face. And while I agree that everyone does face anxiety once or twice in their life, that doesn’t begin to scratch the surface at the amounts I face daily, hourly, every minute. So many people laugh when I tell them about it, saying “oh I have that too” or “exercise totally helps me” or “oh stop, everything’s fine.” My favorite though is “oh I’m sort of anxious about this and that, can I have a few of your xanaxs?”
Yes, people actually ask that. And people constantly belittle my disease saying it’s something I can just get over. Don’t you think I’d just get over it if I could? Don’t you think I would trade ANYTHING to not get physically sick when panic attacks hit or I break into a hysteria that leaves me broken? If I could just “get over it” I would have a long time ago.
I’m not here though to bad mouth people who say those things, instead, I’m going to enlighten them and hopefully open the doors for people who are going through the same thing. See mental illness, despite it being 2015, is still something that carries a bit of a stigma. Anytime a major celebrity dies from depression or suicide, this conversation comes up again and again. “Why can’t they just seek help? Why didn’t anyone try to help them?” And there are even people who don’t think depression, anxiety or any mental ailment is a real struggle, they think it’s something a few pills and some therapy can help. Well, that works for some and it doesn’t for others. No wonder so many people hide their problems and deal with their struggles behind closed doors, so many people are so quick to judge them for having these kinds of problems. In a world where we broadcast our lives on social media and are constantly trying to portray our lives as perfect, it’s hard to sit there and go “I’m not perfect, and here’s why.”
Trust me, writing this post isn’t easy for me. I struggle with so many inner demons, one of them being jealousy and inadequacy. I’m terrified of admitting that things aren’t shiny and glamorous, especially when it seems all of my friends and colleagues lead these post-card perfect lives. But I’m going to because I know I’m not the only person hiding behind the curtains, staring over at the neighbors greener lawn.
I’ve been struggling with some form of anxiety my entire life. As a kid, I was also a big worrier. My parents never saw that as a point of concern, they just noticed that I seemed to worry about everything, things 8 year olds shouldn’t worry about, like bills and college funds. As I grew up, some of that worrying faded and soon I was faced with the normal anxieties of a teenager. In college my anxiety deepened. It started to manifest itself inside of me and it scared me. Instead of talking to a therapist or confiding in my friends, I drank. I drank nonstop so I could stop feeling this constantly pull inside me that was weighing me down. Untreated anxiety can turn into many things, and my first two years of college it turned into depression. A depression I self medicated, which made things worse. A depression that finally forced me to open my eyes about my problems and find a solution.
When I transferred schools, most of my depression went away, because I started talking to my family about it. Minus one very traumatic event my junior year, my anxiety had mostly dissipated. I still had it, well after graduation, our move to DC, my first job and break into freelancing. But it was manageable. The moment it became unmanageable was the day after the fire.
The fire left me completely broken. It changed everything about my life. I couldn’t leave my apartment without having a panic attack. I couldn’t walk down the street without having a fear that I’d come home to a burnt down house. Anytime I heard a fire truck, I literally had to take deep breaths to prevent myself from breaking down in public. Every single day was a personal nightmare for me, wondering what horrible thing could happen next.
I wish I could sit here and say that moving to a safe new place and having a great year made all of my anxiety go away. I wish I could. But I can’t. My anxiety today is as severe as it was the day after the fire. I wake up every morning with a nervous pit in my stomach. From the moment I’m awake, my mind starts processing negative thoughts. I have frequent panic attacks where I feel like I can’t breathe or control myself. When I’m traveling, my thoughts are “my plane is going to crash” or “i’m going to get mugged.” People without anxiety can combat these thoughts easily by deducting odds and understanding chances. I can’t do that. My mind functions in a black and white way. It’s either this or that. I’ll either die in a fiery plane crash or I won’t. I’m constantly thinking of worst case scenarios.
There was a moment last year where my anxiety completely took over while on a trip for work and I was so worked up, I couldn’t sleep, despite an early flight the next morning. I was so panicked, not even a call with my husband could calm me down and I ended up keeping him up most of the night as well.
That was a breaking point for me, I knew I couldn’t live like that anymore and neither could my husband. As soon as I got home, I talked with my primary care doctor about medicines that could help me deal with my anxiety. She prescribed me two kinds of medicine, one for daily anxiety and one for extreme situations. And I’m happy to report that after 8 months of taking the daily pill, I feel like I finally have some of my daily anxiety managed. But it’s not gone. I’m not someone who wants to spend their life mediciated, so I’ve recently started talking with a therapist. It’s scary at first, but incredible once you completely open yourself up to them. I was reserved, but now I look forward to our meetings every week. She doesn’t judge me or make me feel like I’m crazy for the thoughts. Instead she and I find ways I can handle it without the need for panic attacks or higher dosage medication.
I know my anxiety will never go away and that’s something I just have to find a way to live with. But I do know that I can finally manage it in a way that doesn’t leave me dependent on medicine. It’s been a very hard road and very windy one, but I’m here and I’m so grateful to have the support of the people around me. And I’m grateful to you guys for listening and letting me post this. To anyone who is facing crippling anxiety or any mental illness, don’t be scared anymore. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be a slave to your demons, conquer them.
If I can, you can. And that’s a promise.